Thursday, 20 December 2012

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 3.5 & 3.6 – 'Homecoming' & 'Band Candy'

Thursday, 20 December 2012
Giles: I suspect the finger food contains actual fingers.

I found the busyness of "HOMECOMING" mostly appealing, although some of its ideas felt too compressed as a result. I'm already aware Mayor Richard Wilkins (Harry Groener) is season 3's Big Bad (thanks internet), having been referred to in recent episodes, and his low-key debut here was fairly intriguing. He's a germaphobe apparently aware of the town's supernatural population and unafraid of vampires like Mr Trick (K. Todd Freeman), but that's all we learn for now. Is he just brave, or deceptively powerful? The writers have an uphill struggle trying to beat last season's immoral triptych of Angel, Spike and Drusilla, and I certainly don't envy them this challenge.

Leaving the Mayor aside, "Homecoming" was more concerned with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) trying to reassert herself at school, by going up against Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) for the title of Homecoming Queen at the titular event. This enabled a return of the season 1 dynamic between the two characters, as Cordelia's bitchy ruthlessness came out to play—but I was pleased this was a temporary measure, leading to the characters rediscovering their friendship after being hunted in a blood sport organized by Mr Trick. Which brings us to SlayerFest '98; a pretty bizarre idea that deserved a whole episode to itself, as Mr Trick presided over an event where various villains compete to kill the town's residents Slayers (with Cordelia mistaken for Faith after a last-minute change to the limo seating plan).

It was a crazy idea to throw into the episode, but provided some amusing moments and decent thrills as Buffy and Cordelia found themselves fending off twin German assassins (Joseph and Jermyn Daube), a scaly demon called Kulak (Chad Stahelski), game hunter Frawley, and redneck vampire Gorch (Jeremy Ratchford) from "Bad Eggs" with his white trash girlfriend. I think a whole episode revolving around the SlayerFest idea would have been a better option, though—mainly because more time could have been sent giving the contestants personalities and some backstory.

I guess "Homecoming" is best described as chaotically enjoyable, because for every good idea and strong moment there was something silly or regrettable. I'm really not enjoying the sketchy way Buffy's been given a new boyfriend, for instance. I'm also not a fan of Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) suddenly growing closer, despite their attempts to keep things platonic for the sake of their respective partners. It feels especially pointless to ruin the pleasure of the Oz/Willow dynamic, and I have a funny feeling all this is only happening because Cordelia will be joining Angel's spin-off... so Xander needs a love-interest. But it's also a fact of life that TV shows have to keep things changing to prevent torpor, so the writers are likely worried audiences are getting bored with the Oz/Willow and Xander/Cordelia. I'm not sure I agree we've reached that stage yet... although it's probably different for me, watching four episodes a week at times.

Overall, this was a good episode for a season that's slowly taking shape. I do have some concerns about the direction of the story (did Angel have to return to Sunnydale, seeing as it cheapens a loss that only happened five episodes ago?), but also faith that things will work themselves out.

Cordelia: Mom started borrowing my clothes. There should be an age limit on Lycra pants. And Dad, he just locked himself in the bathroom with old copies of Esquire.

It was only a matter of time before BtVS did an episode where some of the cast get to behaviour abnormally, and "Band Candy" was an enjoyable approach to take. On the eve of sitting her SATs, the adults of Sunnydale suddenly regress to adolescence after ingesting poisoned chocolate bars manufactured by Ethan Rayne (Robin Sachs), who's being subcontracted by Mr Trick (K. Todd Freeman) and the Mayor. It's soon up to Buffy and her friends to solve the mystery of why anyone would want to turn the town's adults into irresponsible teenagers again, which predictably involved another demon to appease.

I wouldn't say I wholly enjoyed "BANDY CANDY", but it had some definite upsides. It was huge fun seeing three of the show's most prominent grown-ups playing very different versions of their characters: from tweedy Giles suddenly becoming an English rebel with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, to Joyce as his love-struck girlfriend, and Principal Snyder as an enthusiastic party animal. It didn't make sense that every single adult evidently spent their youth as reckless idiots, or that Ethan's plan hinged on Sunnydale's adults all having a sweet tooth, but this was the kind of episode where you overlooked some obvious conceptual problems and just enjoyed what it was giving you: adults acting like school kids, to the mortification of the real kids. Buffy's horror at seeing Giles and her mother kissing was a particular delight, as was the subtle reveal they'd even had sex while under the chocolate's influence. To be honest, both characters were more entertaining in this episode than they are usually (especially Joyce), so I hope the long-term plan is to have them start a relationship for real.

It was also nice to see a return appearance from Ethan Rayne (even if that character really hasn’t lived up to expectations since his season 2 introduction), and confirmation that the Mayor is going to be pulling strings without Buffy really knowing who's behind various supernatural events. I just wish it was clearer why Mr Trick has allied himself with the Mayor so quickly, who doesn't seem all that threatening apart from the fact he has a cupboard full of bizarre knickknacks.

Overall, "Band Candy" kind of petered out once Ethan had been caught, and the show moved into sillier territory involving stolen new-born babies as payment of tribute to a snake-demon called Lurconis, but the sheer pleasure of seeing Head, Sutherland and Shimerman clowning around was worth the disappointments.

written by David Greenwalt (3.5) & Jane Espenson (3.6) / directed by David Greenwalt (3.5) & Michael Lange (3.6) / 3 & 10 November 1998 / The WB